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The 49ers secondary used to be one of the worst units on the team, regularly among the NFL's bottom-half in yards allowed. This year they're no longer a weakness, but a strength of the defense.
As far back as I can remember in my adult life, the 49ers secondary was always a primary concern. It seemed as though they were always giving up untimely big plays, blowing coverages completely, missing tackles, etc. Even when they tried to draft top picks at defensive back they usually ended up as busts. Their free-agent signings weren't much better.
We all remember gems such as Mark Roman, Mike Rumph, and Taylor Mays. Guys who were constantly liabilities in coverage and never lived up to their billing. Roman in particular gave up a number of painful plays in my memory, including a game-winning touchdown thrown by
Brett Favre He Who Shall Not Be Named.
All of this made me even more surprised, yet pleased, today when I looked at the NFL stats for passing yards allowed and saw our very own 49ers listed at number two. No, that's not "number two" like the bowel movement...not this time.
We've seen steady improvement in guys like Chris Culliver, against whom opposing QB's have a paltry 14.6 rating according to PFF. The whole world saw the resurgence of Carlos Rogers last season as he earned Pro Bowl honors after being discarded by the Washington Redskins.
Tarell Brown made some amazing athletic plays in 2011 as well, coming-on strong late in the season to take the ball away from QBs when it mattered most. Additionally Dashon Goldson had a big year as well, collecting six interceptions in the back end of the secondary.
Through five games the secondary has definitely limited opponents in the passing game in 2012 and will have their hands full against the New York Giants on Sunday. If they're able to shut down one of the league's most potent passing attacks, it will only further demonstrate their rise from the ashes as a group.
It certainly bears mentioning that any good secondary has help from it's front-seven, the pass-rush in particular. With guys like Justin Smith and Aldon Smith rushing the passer it only creates more opportunities for hurried decisions and errant throws from opposing QBs.
The 49ers have worked hard to be a diverse, "multiple" team...one that opponents can't easily prepare for. Having the secondary perform at a high level as a group only makes this defense more well-rounded and no longer just a run-stopping unit.